Saturday, May 22, 2010
My meditation practice always starts by lighting a candle to illuminate a darkened room. Next, I follow by burning incense. I close my eyes and focus on my breathing. Inhale, two, three, four… hold, two, three, four… exhale, two, three, four… hold, two, three, four. My body yields to a slow, calming rhythm. As I inhale through my nostrils, the scent of the incense infuses me with thoughts that mesh with the scent being burned: it might be ocean scent, or roses, or sandalwood, or any other from among the myriad of scents available. Each scent calls up the corresponding mental image, like seascapes, rose gardens or my imagination of ancient rites.
My heart rate slows down as I feel a tingling sensation run up and down my spine. I focus my mind on each of my chakras, one at a time: the base of my spine, genitals, navel, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye, and finally the crown. As I open and attune each chakra to receive universal energy, I feel it expand and throb, then pulse in rhythm to my breathing. With my eyes closed, my inner vision observes a whirling vortex of white light above my head. Then, a beam of white light descends from the vortex into my crown and all of the chakras emanate a glow. At this point, I intone my mantra. Over and over, the word resonates from my throat and diaphragm and I ring it out for the duration of exhaling. I never break the rhythm of my breathing.
Sometimes, my blood seems to cease circulating through my body. Sometimes a fire rages within me. There are times when I feel as if a flood of water washes me from the inside out. Occasionally, I visualize the white light enter through my crown chakra with each of my inhaled breaths, and a gray smoke expels when I exhale. In those occasions, the gray usually becomes cleansed a little with each breath, so that at first, I see dark, murky and thick strands of smoke expelled when I exhale until, with enough time and focus spent on the breathing exercise, the smoky discharge gradually changes through a spectrum of grays and thicknesses into a light, wispy and thin white mist.
At this time, I am finally prepared to empty my mind of all thoughts so I can hear the stillness of the night. I tune out words and just hear whatever natural sounds might be present. I don’t think about the sounds, I just drift on them – mindlessly, thoughtlessly, and serenely. This state offers me the most fulfilling sense of inner peace.
Commonly Accepted Understanding of Peace
According to Wikipedia, “Peace is a quality describing a society or relationship that is operating harmoniously. This is commonly understood as the absence of hostility, or the existence of healthy or newly-healed interpersonal or international relationships, safety in matters of economic or social welfare, the acknowledgment of equality and fairness in political relationships and, in world matters, peacetime; a state of being absent any war or conflict” (Peace, Wikipedia, 26 January 2010). Very much the same definition can be obtained by looking in other encyclopedias and dictionaries, so this definition can suffice as a working description of the common, universally held conception of peace.
In the sense described above, society fails to view peace as an inner state of being for an individual. Rather, society sees peace as a state of affairs – equilibrium, between two or more parties: individuals, collectives, countries or cultures. The viewpoint expressed suggests we define peace by relationships, especially by the absence of conflict in those relationships. When people get along, they feel at peace with one another. When countries do not engage in war, then peace exists in the world. When ethnicities and classes treat one another fairly, with equality and evidencing social justice, we perceive them as being at peace with one another. Thus, harmony in relationship, between and among groups or multiple individuals, expresses the popular and broadly universal conception for the meaning of peace.
On the Beach
I walked along the seashore. The sound of the surf rolling in to the beach, waves occasionally crashing, reverberated in my ears. Gulls flew overhead, and their calls rang out between the rhythmic ebb and flow of waves washing the sandy shoreline. The gray day hushed the breeze into stillness. Out on the water, a few gulls and a lone pelican bobbed on the rising and falling ocean. Three dolphins took turns diving and swimming through the waves, riding on the backs of the waves the way I once rode on breakers’ faces. Way off in the distance, I could see a fishing boat maneuvering to reap the harvest of the day’s catch.
The salty smell brought a smile to my face. My eyes laughed at the damp mist in the air. I saw driftwood and dead kelp strewn about the shoreline, left by a higher tide. I dug up some sea shells and strolled along the water’s edge. Children played in the surf. A man ran with his dog at the water’s edge. As I watched life expressed all around me, I found myself feeling withdrawn, apart. An understanding came upon my mind; I did not need to be part of the activity. I sat on a large log and gazed about me through sunglasses. All I wanted to be was one of those waves. As I imagined myself to be one, I found oneness in peace of mind.
Celebration for the End of WWII
At the end of World War II, after the last atomic bomb had been dropped and the Japanese finally surrendered, celebration rang through the streets of New York. People hugged everyone nearby. Strangers kissed to the moment. A tickertape parade wound through the streets. Bells rang out. Champagne bottles were uncorked and people toasted to both victory and peace. People shouted their glee. Mothers expectantly awaited the return of their soldier sons. The end of hostility released revelry for the newly established peace.
I look at what I have written and notice something odd. The commonly, or universal perception of peace as defined by Wikipedia is one which entails a relationship between two or more individuals, or cultures or countries or other social units. Yet, neither of the moments from my life which I presented as having been emblematic of moments in which I felt and experienced peace have anything to do with interrelationships. Rather, they express my relationship with myself, on the one hand, and my relationship with nature and universal spirituality on the other.
From my examples, I understand that peace, for me, represents the absence of relationships, the absence of people, the absence of the complications and entanglements which arise from relationships with others. It seems that my conception of personal peace develops out of an emotionless state, both joyless and without sorrow. Rather, in my life, I find evidence of peace within emotionless serenity, a place between joy and sorrow, where I am in harmony with myself, nature and my spiritual self, but where other people are only and always on the periphery. Peace, to me, describes contented serenity in solitude and will always remain outside the framework of interpersonal, intercultural and international relationships.